It’s tough to explain Merle McLaughlin’s introduction to Mustang ownership in purely glowing terms because it occurred in the midst of a most difficult period of life. You see, in 2001, Merle lost his wife of 53 years, and the blow was understandably staggering. To his credit, rather than throw in the towel, Merle knew that staying occupied would help him continue in a positive direction. His son Bob had long found Mustang restoration an enjoyable pastime, and it wouldn’t be long until Merle queried Bob about a project of his own.
Bob explained it like this: “Dad wanted to buy a ’65-’66 Mustang with power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, and other nice options, but I figured there was a slim chance of finding that kind of equipment on an early car. He had always liked Lincolns and T-birds, and it wasn’t long until we basically fell into this ’73.”
The big convertible turned out to be a near perfect fit for Merle, and a great distraction from the sobering side of life. It turns out the car had been owned by one of Bob’s co-workers for some 25 years and was being sold to make way for a minivan. Before the guy had a chance to think better, Merle jumped at the chance and made the deal.
Bob and Merle rightly understood the convertible to be just the kind of project that was doable at the time. The car had long since been resprayed from its original Medium Aqua to a period-correct Medium Blue Metallic, and while somewhat neglected, the paint was salvageable. A bit rougher was the dirty engine and tired interior, but these were just the kind of projects to occupy the mind and provide quality time for father and son.
Squaring away the exterior was one of the first endeavors, and Bob pointed Merle to a trusted hand who had painted some of Bob’s Mustang projects over the years. Jerry Geisler at Jerry’s Custom Paint performed some minor repairs, brought the topcoat back to life, laid down the argent stripe kit, and painted a non-original NASA-ducted hood in a Mach 1 inspired scheme. Completing the head-turning good looks are a factory-style front spoiler and 14x7 Magnum 500s shod in BF Goodrich Radial TAs.
Next up was the interior, where the dash was disassembled and repainted, the dashpad replaced, carpet redyed, and various interior panels refurbished. Dan Hoots was called on to install new upholstery with the results looking like 1973 all over again. Yes, this one has the power assist prerequisites Merle had been looking for, including factory air conditioning, making for a great driving Pony when combined with the drop-top.
While the interior came together quickly enough, it turns out the bulk of the father and son man hours were applied where it seems we all like to spend our time—under the hood. Merle says the two tallied something like 160 hours in the engine compartment—disassembling, cleaning, painting, and the like. The bone-stock original 302 had already been rebuilt, so the effort essentially amounted to an intense detailing we don’t always see on the more pedestrian small-blocks such as this. Almost needless to say, the results are fantastic.
Throughout the project, Merle and Bob were encouraged by members of Mustangs Northwest and the Mustang Wranglers, local clubs that are near father and son in Washington and Oregon respectively. Completion of the convertible occurred in 2003, but it was still shining brightly when we caught up with it for photos in the summer of 2011. Helping prove the point was a Concours Driven Gold award at Mustang Northwest’s Roundup show last summer, but that’s just an aside compared to the enjoyment Merle has derived from driving the ’73 over the past years.
The convertible made such an impression on Merle that he purchased a Zinc Yellow ’01 GT as a daily driver. Yes, Merle arrived on the Mustang scene later than most, and for reasons we wouldn’t wish for anyone. Nevertheless, this ’73 has clearly been a worthy diversion, and as Bob says, “I know Mom would be very happy that we found something to work on together.”
Indeed, that’s a big part of what our hobby is all about!